Every writer of books is plagued by stories of how some author submitted a novel to 30 or 40 or 57 agents or publishers before finding it a home, only to go on to experience huge, decades-spanning success. It makes us wonder if we should be submit that story or novel to just one more place, because this next place could be the one that says yes. While I can’t give you any hard and fast rules about this –there is no equation — I do think there comes a time when we need to abandon old projects for new ideas. Here are my general parameters.
You’ve Been Trying for More Than 5 Years
I have this one story that I’ve been going back to, revising, tweaking, and editing for more than ten years. I’ve submitted it to dozens of magazines and it has been universally rejected. I’ll be honest. It breaks my heart a little that I never found a home for that story. I think it’s probably, on balance, one of the most powerful and well-written things I’ve ever done. But, after ten years and so many revisions I cannot count them anymore, I’m retiring that story from active submitting. It will, however, probably see life in some other context.
Granted, every writer gets bored at some point during the writing process. It happens. That’s not what I mean. What I’m talking about is that moment where you realize that you’re phoning it in because you just don’t care about the story or characters anymore. When you stop caring, it’s time to let that idea go, because reader boredom won’t be far behind.
People Who Know Are Telling You It’s Bad
It’s a hard thing to hear that an idea is bad or a story doesn’t work or a novel isn’t compelling. The only thing worse than that is to push forward with it anyways. If one person tells you it’s bad, you can probably blow it off. If your writer’s group, your friends, an agent and an editor all say it’s bad, put that one in your drawer and forget about it. The odds that all of those people are wrong are infinitesimally low.
There may be other times when you should quit, like if it’s impacting your health, but the above three three are the times that I believe you should always quit and move onto a new idea. Sometimes, no amount of effort or revision can save an idea and absolutely nothing can save a book from the author’s boredom.
Do you have any personal guidelines for when to abandon an idea, book or character? Let me know about them in the comments below.